By John Burton Jr.
“The well-being of men and boys of color is crucial for the overall health, prosperity, and inclusivity of society,” said artist, educational leader, and community curator, turned executive director, Ricky Singh. This New York City native has led the nonprofit, My Brother’s Keeper Charlotte-Mecklenburg, since July 2023.
Former President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in 2014 in response to the persistent opportunity gaps boys and young men of color in the U.S. face. My Brother’s Keeper Charlotte-Mecklenburg (MBKCLTMECK) is a collective impact organization founded by men of color that utilizes a collective impact model to address the inequities of boys of color in the county.
The organization’s Board of Directors is virtual who’s who of Mecklenburg County men in leadership. Members include Kieth Cockrell, president of Bank of America Charlotte, Mark Jerrell, Mecklenburg County Commissioner, and Frank Barnes, Chief Accountability Officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to name a few.
Singh, a three-time Brooklyn College graduate is an acclaimed muralist, hip hop devotee, and spoken word artist, who also appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam.”
Singh sees himself in his executive director role as a fuser. “I hope to fuse these roles by creating a dynamic and inclusive space within MBKCLTMECK that recognizes and celebrates the diverse talents, experiences and aspirations of Charlotte youth, far and wide,” he said.
Often in the media and society, the image of men of color, Black men in particular aren’t spoken of with the type of jubilance Singh expresses. Black male faces are oftentimes tarnished by bias, mischaracterizations and misconceptions. According to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey of nearly 5,000 Black adults, almost two-thirds (63 percent) say news about Black people is often more negative than news about other racial and ethnic groups, and 43 percent say the coverage largely stereotypes Black people.
“This can lead to harmful assumptions about their character, abilities or intentions,” the 37-year-old Singh explained.. “It is essential to recognize the unique challenges faced by men of color while avoiding broad generalizations that can perpetuate discrimination and hinder efforts to address systemic issues.”
This is one of the reasons MBKCLTMECK’s leadership is very strategic when it comes to its future, focus and community footing. “Our focus remains on addressing the needs of the community and advancing our mission,” Singh said. “My role as a community builder has been guided by the principles of servant leadership, emphasizing the importance of serving and supporting others. Through forging connections and fostering collaboration, I seek to build a sense of community strength,” he added. “We are excited to announce a strategic partnership with the Urban League of Central Carolina amongst many other partners that have joined our portfolio since July of 2023.”
Grounded in empathy, Singh’s approach to leadership is with a humble, servant-hearted mindset. As a father of four boys, his understanding of people is deeply influenced by the lessons he learns every day raising a family. “My aspiration is to humbly embody servant leadership, inspiring positive change and leaving a meaningful impact on individuals and the communities we navigate together,” Singh said.
When asked if he had a wish list for MBKCLTMECK, he mentioned four key things:
- Resource strengthening: Adequate funding for growth
- Secure robust funding to fuel program growth, enabling the expansion of services, professional development and adaptability to community needs.
- Strategic collaboration: Forge impactful partnerships
- Establish meaningful partnerships with diverse stakeholders, leveraging unique perspectives, expertise and resources.
- Mentorship empowerment: Robust guidance programs
- Implement strong mentorship initiatives to empower individuals with guidance, inspiration and a supportive community.
- Educational access: Cutting-edge learning opportunities
- Ensure equitable access to the latest educational tools and programs, fostering skill development for success in a rapidly evolving world.
Although Charlotte isn’t the Land of Oz and wishes don’t get granted with a magic wand, Singh said one of the simplest things people can do to help MBKCLTMECK succeed is to, “reach out and connect if you share our vision,” he said. “Let’s build together or support existing initiatives. Your collaboration and support make a meaningful impact.”
Having lived in New York City and Charlotte for some time, Singh suggests no matter the locale, similar challenges exist, like poverty, education and community development. However, it’s through understanding these universal challenges that nonprofits can effectively strategize to promote a collaborative and flexible approach to community development, he said.
In doing so, it not only benefits men of color but all people. “Ultimately, ensuring their well-being is a matter of human rights and contributes to building a more just and equitable world for everyone,” said Singh.